Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cake for Granny

This blog is about my cakes and my food, not so much about me, however, some family stories have come up along the way, and now is time for another one. I have written about the cakes I've baked for my grandmother's birthday before, and what a big deal I make of them, because of what a big deal her birthday is to her (ie: at 91, she's pretty sure she's running out of cakes!) But I have another grandmother who is just 8 months younger, for whom I also always make a cake. The difference is that the younger one always wants the same cake: pineapple upside down cake. Now, I have a couple of issues with this. First of all, there are so many cakes in the world - so many delectable, unique cakes - that I just flat out don't like the idea of using a recipe I've used before, and certainly not on an annual basis. Sure, I have my favorite layer cake and my favorite sponge cake, but even then, when I make them, it is usually in combination with new flavors of fillings and frostings to create entirely special desserts. So the fact that she asks for the same cake every year kind of bums me out. On top of that, I don't really like pineapple upside down cake. That might not be entirely fair - I don't not like it, but I don't especially like it. To me, it is like coffee cake. It can be yummy, but would be better for breakfast or a snack then as dessert.

I find it amusing to wonder if Gramma likes this more because of the exoticism represented by canned pineapple and the allue of some travel-poster concept of Hawaii than for the actual taste of the cake. If she had grown up on a tropical island surrounded by fresh pineapples, would she like this cake at all? I know I'll never know, and I realize one reason I'm so impartial to it is just because it represents kitsch and monotony. There absolutely is a place for it, but in my opinion it's not birthday cake, and it's not an annual occasion. But. I'm. Not. The One. Who. Is. 91. Years Old.

So out of the oven came another PU-DC.

A couple times (back in her 80's when she wasn't quite as rigid and inflexible) I pulled a pineapple chiffon cake and a pineapple rum trifle cake on her. I was thrilled. She was disappointed. So I'm forced to stick with the traditional.  I do try different versions, though variations that I would get really excited about (eg: ginger in the topping, cardamom in the cake, coconut milk, or multiple fruits like apricots and mangos) are pretty much out of the question. My standby had been Joy of Cooking, but this year I used an extensively-reviewed recipe from Gourmet.

For many years, I didn't have an oven-safe skillet, so the main feature of an upside-down cake - the carmelized topping - was missing. You just can't get that gooey carmelized topping in a regular cake pan. A few years ago, I finally acquired a 10-inch cast iron skillet, just right for this recipe. One of the benefits of this recipe over the one in Joy is that you boil the topping so it gets nice and sticky... it's not enough to just melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar. The other enhancement is to use pineapple juice in the batter (Joy uses buttermilk); this makes it just a little sweeter and not so dense.

I actually really enjoyed the results. It's not what I think of as dessert after a good meal, and unless it was specifically requested of me, I would probably only make it for brunch. But this does have a really satisfying "crust" of carmelized sugar topping, and moist, flavorful cake. To keep things as traditional as possible for Gramma, I did not use cardamom in the batter, but did add a shake of cinnamon. For myself, I think cardamom or cloves would be excellent, and definitely some candied ginger in the topping. I also used canned pineapple instead of fresh, both to get the exactly concentric rounds with perfectly cored centers for decorating (I used macademia nuts instead of marachino cherries this year) and because the juice for the batter is all of a piece in the can.

If Gramma makes it to #92, this will be the cake I make for her again, with pleasure.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake with canned pineapple and macademia nut decoration with cinnamon instead of cardamom.

No comments:

Post a Comment